The Always-Present Leadoff Question: Joe Maddon Leaning Toward Heyward or Zobrist

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The Always-Present Leadoff Question: Joe Maddon Leaning Toward Heyward or Zobrist

Analysis and Commentary, Chicago Cubs News

juan-pierre-moustache[Brett: Why yes, that IS a picture of former Cubs leadoff man Juan Pierre. With a mustache. You’re welcome.]

Who is going to leadoff? Every single season, just about every single team is faced with that important question. Or at least the fans really like to discuss it.

We’ve learned a lot about lineup construction over the past few years – mostly that, well, it isn’t all that important – but there’s a couple things that will always be true for the top spot: it’s important to get on base and it’s important to maximize plate appearances for your best hitters.

For the Cubs, with outgoing leadoff man Dexter Fowler still looking for a job in free agency, the team will have to find a new man at the top of the order. Luckily for the Cubs, their lineup is full of excellent hitters with high on base percentages. In fact, with the exception of Addison Russell and Jorge Soler – as I said on Friday – the next lowest OBP from the Cubs eight starting position players in 2015 is Miguel Montero’s excellent .345.

So, even by eliminating those three from contention, the Cubs have five other hitters with OBPs in 2015 greater than .355. Of course, some make far more sense than others at the top of the order, but there are some pretty serious arguments to be made for an unconventional leadoff man like Anthony Rizzo or Kyle Schwarber.

That said, Joe Maddon has saved us the debate, by reportedly narrowing his candidates for the leadoff spot down to just two names: Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward.

Carrie Muskat and Jesse Rogers report that Cubs manager Joe Maddon has focused on the two biggest offseason additions for the spot at the top of the lineup card in 2016. Nothing has been decided, yet, of course, but Maddon feels that picking the top spot will help everything else fall into place.

Of course, you couldn’t go wrong with either pick.

Ben Zobrist is a veteran, a switch-hitter and has a career .355 OBP. Moreover, his career walk rate (12.0%) and strikeout rate (15.1%) are fantastic, and would work well at the top of the order. Interestingly, though, as a leadoff man, Zobrist’s career numbers fall off quite a bit. In 609 plate appearances from the leadoff spot, Zobrist has slashed .241/.329/.372. Still, even in that time he was able to keep an 11.5% walk rate and 13.3% strikeout rate. It’s possible he doesn’t hit as well in that role, or it’s possible it’s just a flukey thing.

Jason Heyward is young, but has had six long seasons in MLB. He’s a lefty, and, at this point, could be counted on as a veteran with deep knowledge of the game. Throughout his career, he has kept an eerily similar .353 OBP with a 10.8% walk rate and 18.1% strike out rate. With a similar 570 plate appearances from the leadoff spot throughout his career, Heyward has slashed .280/.354/.427 (more or less equal to his overall line) with a 9.6% walk rate and 16.8% strike out rate. Of the two, Heyward is probably the better baserunner, for what that’s worth.

Even a platoon at the top – Heyward against righties, Zobrist against lefties – could be an option.

You just can’t go wrong, but, for the purposes of the record, I’ll throw my hat into the Jason Heyward leadoff ring, with the rest of the everyday lineup falling as such:

  1. Jason Heyward (CF) – L
  2. Kyle Schwarber (LF) – L
  3. Kris Bryant (3B) – R
  4. Anthony Rizzo (1B) – L
  5. Jorge Soler (RF) – R
  6. Ben Zobrist (2B) – S
  7. Miguel Montero (C) – L
  8. Pitcher
  9. Addison Russell (SS) – R

What would your lineup look like?

Brett Taylor contributed to this post.


Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @Michael_Cerami.